House Blue Dogs Reach Health Reform Deal, Senate Committee Nears Agreement

Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog coalition, told the Washington Post that the deal would cut $100 billion from the cost of the legislation, which has already been approved by two other House committees. He also said that under the deal, health care providers would not be paid at Medicare rates, which legislators from rural states believe pays rural doctors at too low a rate.

The House deal will allow the committee to vote on the bill before the end of the week, but on the condition that the bill will not move to a full vote in the House before the fall.

“I’m especially grateful that so many members, including some Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee, are working so hard to find common ground. Those efforts are extraordinarily constructive in strengthening this legislation and bringing down its cost,” the president said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, reports from the Senate Finance Committee are that the bipartisan panel of six senators that has been trying to negotiate a compromise bill for weeks is now nearing an accord.

Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced Wednesday that the Congressional Budget Office had reviewed a draft of the legislation and determined it would cost less than $900 billion over 10 years, and would not add to the national debt. Instead, costs would be offset through reduced spending and new taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that he expects the committee to vote on the bill before the Senate breaks for recess August 7. Reid already said last week that the full Senate will not vote on a health reform bill before the fall.

The final bill that the bipartisan negotiators on the Finance committee come up with could dispense with many of the Obama administration’s priorities, including a government-run public plan option.

Instead, the Washington Post reports, the legislation may include insurance cooperatives modeled on rural electric cooperatives.

The compromise bill is also likely to include incentives for employers to provide health insurance for their workers, rather than fines for those who don’t. It is also expected to include more targeted tax increases, rather than the general tax increase on the wealthy that the House has proposed.

Sen. Olympia Snow, R-Maine, one of the Republican negotiators on the committee, told the Washington Post that the goal of the negotiations is to draw up a bill that can attract Republican votes.

“I think it might resonate, frankly, with our colleagues,” Snowe said of the emerging compromise measure. “We want the basis for a bipartisan agreement, and I think that could be the launching pad for that resolution.”

Reid told reporters he might be willing to accept a compromise bill if it meant he could attract enough Republicans to get to the 60 votes necessary to turn back procedural blocks to the bill. Democrats hold 60 seats in the Senate, but two senators, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Robert Byrd of West Virginia, have been absent for months as they battle illnesses.

“I have a responsibility to get a bill on the Senate floor that will get 60 votes,” Reid said. “That’s my No. 1 responsibility, and there are times when I have to set aside my personal preferences for the good of the Senate and I think the country,” he said, according to the Washington Post.

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